Should Bucks fans worry about Giannis? Is Milwaukee one Holiday injury away from concern?

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While a number of Bucks players have made their way back to Milwaukee and started unofficial preparations for the season, training camp is still more than two weeks away.
So, to fill the time waiting for the upcoming season, we asked for your questions. Now, we’re going to start making our way through with some answers. There were quite a few questions, so it is going to take a couple of passes to get all the way through this. Let’s get started!
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Editor’s note: Questions have been lightly edited for clarity.
Giannis was non-committal to signing an extension this year or next. Do you sense concern from the front office that Giannis will be the next star to move on? — Jared M.
In a small market, I think that concern always exists, especially in the modern version of the NBA.
From the moment the Bucks signed Antetokounmpo to a supermax extension in 2020, they have been thinking about how to build a franchise healthy enough to convince Antetokounmpo to sign another contract after that. That is the only way to operate as a small market franchise with a superstar.
Just last week, a comment from Patrick Beverley on a podcast started a discussion about whether or not Anthony Edwards was eventually going to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves or if he should begin to look for a new team right now. My colleague Jon Krawczynski handled the topic well (his take on the matter is well worth a read), but the conversation of the next player to move out of a small market is a popular topic among NBA fans and seems to be a storyline that is not going to disappear.
Concerning the Bucks and the two-time NBA MVP though, I don’t think their future plans or their level of concern surrounding Antetokounmpo’s future has changed all that much because of Antetokounmpo’s comments. They know Antetokounmpo wants to win, they’ve known Antetokounmpo has wanted to win since he arrived in Milwaukee and they’ve done what they can to put him in a position to win since he has been an MVP-level player.
From the moment the organization hired Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks have been in championship contention. After three seasons of trying to break through, they won a title in 2021. General manager Jon Horst has continued to try to push the team closer to a championship in each of the last two seasons. Not every one of those moves has worked out and one can always argue that the organization did not do enough, but in each of the last five seasons, they have been one of roughly five teams that have had a legitimate shot at winning the NBA title. As the Bucks get ready for training camp, the same looks like it will be true of the upcoming season.
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And while Antetokounmpo will be eligible later this month to sign an extension that would add two years onto his deal, it never seemed realistic for him to consider it. Signing that extension would have limited his ability to put pressure on the organization to maintain a winner, a move we’ve seen from many of the NBA’s best players over the years, and kept him out of free agency (or the threat of free agency) for two extra seasons. On top of that, it would have limited his career earnings because he can make more money over the length of his career if he continues to sign four or five-year supermax extensions, which seems like his obvious path moving forward.
With one of the best players in the NBA on your roster, there will always be significant pressure to compete and if you fail to contend for titles, that great player is likely going to be unhappy. Even if there are valid reasons for the Bucks’ shortcomings in the last two postseasons, it appears as though Antetokounmpo would like to be far closer to a championship this upcoming season.
What is your gut reaction to what was behind the much publicized comments Giannis made about needing the franchise to commit to winning championships before he signs an extension? Are there teammates/individuals currently in the franchise that he doesn’t believe hold the same commitment he does? Is it just smoke/negotiation tactics? —Richard H. (similar questions from Alexander L. and Wayne M.)
I know some Bucks fans read the comments Antetokounmpo made about making sure “everybody’s on the same page, everybody’s going for a championship, everybody’s going to sacrifice time away from their family like I do” as a veiled criticism of some of his teammates or people in the organization not doing those things, but I never really read it that way.
To me, that particular comment spoke to the standard he believes he has set around the organization rather than a shot at someone not living up to the standard and that sentiment was something he seemed to echo this week on the 48 Minutes podcast.
“As long as we play and we approach the game every single day the right way and we all sacrifice for a common goal, I can see myself being a Milwaukee Buck the rest of my career,” Antetokounmpo said on the podcast. “But the moment I feel like people are not as committed as I am to get that golden thing in the back (points at Larry O’Brien trophy), I am not… It’s more than the money, it’s more than the fame, it’s more than the lobsters, it’s more than the wine, it’s more than the charter flights. For me, it’s all about that and I want that.
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“So, as I said, if the Milwaukee Bucks are on the same page for the rest of my career, great. If not, I have to win. I have to win. And I think the city and people will understand it because I’m one of the most competitive guys and I’ve given everything that I can for the city of Milwaukee. I bleed green. I’m actually wearing the Milwaukee Bucks in this interview… I’m a Milwaukee Buck, but most importantly, I’m a winner. I want to win. And I have to do whatever it takes for me to win and if there’s a better situation for me to win the Larry O’Brien, I have to take that better situation.”
His references to a commitment to winning and the sacrifices he makes as a person seem to be him explaining how he approaches the game and his mentality and not a discussion of others. This is, in my opinion, just how he is wired. Remember, in his ninth season, when he was informed that he had been named No. 24 on The Athletic’s list of Top 75 NBA players, he said this:
“I thought we were going to win a championship, and it was going to be like a fairytale and it’s done and we’re all going to be enjoying it,” Antetokounmpo told The Athletic. “We’re going to be partying for 15 years straight, but you win one and you’re like, ‘What’s next?’”
“I don’t know if you know this guy, but I was talking to this big-time point guard in Greece, Theo Papaloukas, (who) played for the national team, CSKA Moscow, Olympiakos. He told me, ‘Giannis, this is never going to stop.’ I said, ‘What do you mean this is never going to stop?’ He said, ‘Every time you win something or you accomplish something, you’re going to say, ‘What’s next?’ Because that’s how human beings are built.’ And I came back and I was like, ‘Damn, this is f—ing insane, I’m already thinking about what’s next.’”
After winning a championship in 2021, the Bucks have now gone two seasons without winning a championship and Antetokounmpo wants that to change.
The Bucks seem like they are one Jrue Holiday injury away from being in a bad position at the one. Am I wrong? If Holiday stays healthy, I’m fine with using some two-way guys to soak up 15 minutes a night until the trade deadline. But if Holiday gets hurt… —Dan M.
With Lindell Wigginton, TyTy Washington, and Omari Moore on two-ways and Jazian Gortman in camp, is that their plan for backup PG? Do they plan to use all three two-ways on PGs or will one of them be the odd man out? (I’d be okay with giving Wigginton’s spot to someone with more upside) — Clayton K. (Jack K. with a similar question)
This is definitely one of the most interesting things about the Bucks’ roster heading into the season. As both questions suggest, there is not another point guard outside of Holiday on the 15-man roster at the moment. Horst appears willing to cover for this weakness slightly by having two point guards (TyTy Washington Jr. and Lindell Wigginton) in the team’s three two-way roster spots, but even with Washington’s promising potential, that is pretty light coverage for the point guard spot.
It is unusual to see a title contender willingly use two-way roster spots to fill their depth at any specific spot on the roster though, which would lead me to believe Horst and Griffin think there might be another way to go about filling the team’s backup point guard duties this season. That could mean something as simple as leaning into Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton bringing the ball up the floor more often this season or something more difficult to predict like using Andre Jackson Jr. as someone to bring the ball up the floor and getting them into their offense.
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Either way though, it is one of the stranger quirks of the roster heading into the season. Unless some sort of trade or transaction is made before the start of the season, the Bucks would be in a really tough spot if Holiday picks up a long-term injury.
Which players on two-way and Exhibit 10 deals are likely to see the most action during the regular season? Can any be expected to have their deals converted to standard contracts and log playoff minutes? —Alex
Depending how the Bucks want to handle things at backup point guard, Washington and Wigginton could potentially have a role during the regular season, which is saying a lot for any two-way player before the start of the season. It seems unlikely that any of the Exhibit 10 players would find such an opportunity.
Expecting any of the two-way players to get their deals converted to standard contracts might be a bit much at the moment, but we’ve seen Horst fill out the roster spots that open up after the trade deadline with converted contracts before, so that could be where the opportunity lies for some of these young players. Playoff minutes this upcoming postseason, however, seem like a stretch.
With Adrian Griffin stating he wants to emphasize forcing the opposing team into turnovers and playing in transition, what does that mean for Brook Lopez’s use this year? — Jeremiah J.
Last season, the Toronto Raptors forced turnovers on 17.2 percent of their opponent’s offensive possessions, the highest turnover rate of any team in the NBA. This is an important fact because Griffin was the Raptors’ lead assistant and was heavily involved in forming their defensive identity with former head coach Nick Nurse. For much of the season, the Raptors played non-traditional lineups that rarely featured a true center, which allowed them to really turn up the pressure defensively and play aggressively with five quicker players on the floor.
And then, at the trade deadline, they added Jakob Poeltl, a 7-foot-1, 245-pound, 27-year-old center. And while Lopez is bigger (7-foot-1, 282 pounds) and older (35 years old) than Poeltl, the results with Poeltl on the floor may actually speak to what is possible with Lopez in such a scheme. It was a small sample size with Poeltl playing 707 minutes in 26 games with the Raptors, but the Raptors still forced turnovers on 19 percent of possessions with Poeltl on the floor. On top of that, they gave up 109.9 points per 100 possessions, a 91st percentile figure for individual lineups last season, according to Cleaning the Glass.
It is not clear exactly what type of defense Griffin wants to install outside of trying to be more aggressive and forcing more turnovers. His philosophy on the defensive end will likely adapt and evolve as he molds it to the Bucks’ personnel, but in practice, there was room for the other four Raptors to create chaos on the perimeter and Poeltl to clean things up at the rim.
As that play from the Raptors’ play-in game shows, Poeltl served as the backbone of the Raptors’ defense while they switched and trapped the ball and forced a driver toward the rim. So, for this season, the angles at which Lopez blocks shots might change, as will the areas he needs to position himself to manipulate the NBA’s defensive three seconds rules, but it is possible to have a more aggressive perimeter with a traditional rim-protecting center. It will require changes from everyone on the roster, but a more aggressive defense that tries to force turnovers should not negate the efforts of the NBA’s runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year last season.
Malik Beasley, why has he bounced between teams so much? —Mark S.
For those unfamiliar with Beasley’s path in the NBA, he was:
Drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the No. 19 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft and spent three-and-a-half seasons with the Nuggets
Traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the 2020 trade deadline in a four-team deal and then spent two and a half seasons with the Timberwolves
Suspended for 12 games during the 2020-21 season in the wake of pleading guilty to a felony count of threats of violence
Traded to the Utah Jazz as part of the Rudy Gobert deal last offseason, where he spent half a season
Traded to the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a three-team deal
The Bucks will be Beasley’s fifth NBA team as he starts his eighth NBA (his age-27) season, so he has bounced around a bit.
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In general, he remains interesting to teams around the league because he can really shoot it. Beasley has no problem getting off a high volume of attempts from behind the 3-point line and he hits those looks at an above-average rate, despite taking 3-pointers off of movement and some legitimately tough looks.
Being able to scheme a shooter open like the Lakers did for Beasley on the play above is valuable during the regular season and forces opponents to prepare for Beasley or a set of Beasley-specific actions on a nightly basis.
In last year’s postseason with the Lakers though, Beasley found himself on the outside of Darvin Ham’s rotation as the Lakers leaned into their size and defensive identity as they continued to move through the season. And that remains the biggest question for him moving forward.
In the postseason, Beasley has not proven capable of staying on the floor defensively or being so valuable offensively that his team can look past any potential defensive struggles. This may continue to be a problem for him at his size — 6-foot-4 and 187 pounds — going forward or it could just be a matter of him not yet finding the right team.
Related reading
Nehm: As Adrian Griffin’s first Bucks season approaches, he and Giannis are ‘on the same page’
Nehm and Vecenie: How young players such as A.J. Green could have a hand in Milwaukee’s future
(Photo of Giannis Antetokounmpo: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

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